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Communnity members discus celiac disease

POSTED: October 21, 2009 12:22 p.m.
Glenda Spetter wouldn’t have known she could benefit from a diet without wheat if not for her son. To help manage the symptoms of his autism, Spetter began making meals without gluten, the protein commonly found in wheat, rye, barley and related grains.
“I didn’t realize I had issues with gluten until I got on the diet and lost weight,” Spetter said.
She was one of a dozen or so residents who gathered at Farmer’s Natural Foods store last Thursday to learn more about gluten intolerance and how it affects their health and well being. Roughly one in 133 people in the U.S. have celiac disease, according to the Celiac Sprue Association
Dr. Douglass Hutto, a naturopath from Lifewell Health and Wellness Group, led the discussion. He explained that people have different levels of intolerance to gluten, but the symptoms present themselves in similar ways, and they all begin in the gut, where digestion takes place.
“When the immune system doesn’t recognize [gluten] as food, it attacks it inside the villi,” fingerlike projections that line the small intestine and draw nutrients from food into the body, Hutto said.
When the immune system responds to gluten in this way, the result is tissue inflammation. Swollen villi can’t deliver nutrients to the body, so some gluten-sensitive people can become malnourished. Others experience skin rashes because gluten has found its way into the bloodstream and nestled between cells near the skin’s surface, he said.
While some attendees expressed sensitivity to gluten ranging from allergies to celiac disease — the most serious form — others came to learn more about the issue and its possible relation to other conditions. Several asked about irritable bowel syndrome and acid reflux disease, which Hutto said can all be tied into the mechanics of the body.
“They all begin with digestive weakness,” Hutto said. Low levels of hydrochloric acid in the stomach can lead to poorly digested food, which in turn leads to acid reflux and IBS issues. Hutto suggests people with poor digestion who eat high-gluten diets may become gluten-sensitive over time because the body can’t rid itself of the protein.
Hutto added that while gluten sensitivity appears to be genetic for some people, for others the sudden onset of symptoms may be triggered by stress.
“There’s a gene for everything, and stress an activate dormant genes that show susceptibility,” Hutto said. But, he adds, these genes can be turned off again through stress management. Hutto’s work as a naturopath includes teaching stress management techniques to patients and he shared several tips with attendees during the meeting.
While not promising a reduction in symptoms or a cure for celiac disease or gluten sensitivity — currently there is no medical cure for celiacs — Hutto said stress management and maintaining a gluten-free diet are essential to staying well.
“The obvious solution is to avoid gluten-containing products,” he said.
Farmer’s Natural Foods will continue to offer space for people who want to form a monthly group. Spetter said in addition to attending meetings, she’ll continue to search for the one thing that’s eluded her since going gluten-free.
“It’s been a slow process. I haven’t perfected it yet,” she said. “The biggest struggle is finding a bread recipe.”
More information on celiac disease may be found online or at Farmer’s Natural Foods, which carries several types of gluten-free items.
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